“Strategic direction is more important today. It's about providing a framework for managers to navigate through the fog of complex chokes. No company can avoid this."

– C.K. Prahalad –

PoS Aug 2014 | Do you have Waigaya meetings?

Dear Friend,

Honda does. 

They have an established practice of spontaneous, agenda-free meetings in which people discuss problems, share facts, express opinions, challenge each other including senior colleagues, and attempt to find effective solutions. It is the Honda way and stems from the belief that paradoxes and disagreements are vital for continuous improvement.

The Ultimate Athlete

In the August 2014 edition of strategy+business, Jeffrey Rothfeder narrates an interesting episode. By 2004 Honda’s Acura TL launched in 1995, had become passé and needed redesign.

A cross-functional team of designers, production managers, engineering people, and representatives from sales and marketing was tasked to visualise and craft the new design.

After several waigaya discussions, it was agreed that the car would be built around the theme “The Ultimate Athlete”.

Jon Ikeda, the Acura Design Studio, had a mental picture of Bruce Lee as the “The Ultimate Athlete”. He dreamed of the car as a muscular, lightning quick, and highly responsive product of superb engineering.

Fearless Challenge

Discussion on many elements of design had gone well. He was confident everyone would agree when he asked that the tyres be 17 inches in diameter from the current 16.

The larger and wider wheels would be powerful signature of the muscular car, he felt. A few people pointed out that modifications would be required in the chassis, and other critical assemblies. They would cost more.

The Vice President representing Japanese headquarters gently pointed out the high costs it would entail and firmly turned it down. Ikeda was furious. He told the Vice President his view jeopardised the Honda ethos of dreams driving new products. He insisted that the larger wheels must be accepted unless the final design was weak, or flawed. Ikeda wondered if his emotional outburst would ruin his career.

Merit of an Idea

Ikeda’s idea was accepted because it had the support of the waigaya. The Project Leader saw that larger wheels were in line with the intended persona of the new model. The idea was accepted because it had merit. Opposing the views of a superior officer did not affect Ikeda’s career.

In waigaya everyone is equal, and can share their views without fear. Once expressed, all ideas belong to Honda. They are discussed threadbare. Finally, waigaya ends with clear decisions and responsibilities for action. Sometimes a small experiment is initiated to see if the idea works.

The Waigaya leader seeks consensus – not compromise – on various dimensions of an issue. He notes areas of agreement as well as disagreement and over time selects ideas based on their efficacy.

Innovation and Decision Making

Waigaya is a wonderful catalyst for innovation. It is hierarchy breaching, inclusive, and action oriented. Discussion and debate are effective for demolishing dogma, overcoming bias, and making sound decisions. It is the hallmark of inquisitive organisations.

Does your firm practise waigaya?

Source: strategy+business, August 1, 2014 / Autumn 2014 / Issue 76

Related reading: Personality of Inquisitive Organisations and Research report on Inquisitive Organisations.